Thursday, January 7, 2010

Following Verlen and Valerie-X-The Mackenzie River

OK. I'm going to take a crack at following Verlen and Valerie across Canada on their Two Continent Canoe Expedition.  My main source will be the Newsletter collection loaned to me by Jon Young.

The newly married Krugers started paddling their Verlen-built Sea Wind canoes up the Mackenzie River in June of 1986 at Inuvik, a modern Canadian government-built town located close that river's East Channel. They were about 60 km upstream from the Arctic Ocean.

I could see right away when I started this project that the distances involved were far too great for my leisurely Google Maps "seagull" approach that I used in followng the Krugers from Michigan to the Gulf. So I shifted to the "virtual helicopter" approach that I used for following Charlie Parmelee's 2008 Odyssey and the Ultimate Hugh Heward challengers last spring.. This involves going to Google Earth, finding the waterway, tilting the perspective and rotating the image so as to follow the paddlers' path upstream, downstream or cross country as appropriate.

As was the case with my last project, I am not attempting to tell the untold story of the Krugers' Two Continent Expedition. Rather I am trying to share with you my effort to follow their path. As usual, if you want to opt out, just say so.

Valerie: "On June 6th at 4:17 AM the ice went out of the East Branch of the Mackenzie River, jamming, jostling and grinding past the arctic town of Inuvik. Verlen and I couldn't sleep. We sat on a knoll above the river, watching excitedly as the ice scraped against the shore, splitting and sliding on top of itsself...Verlen and I were mesmerized...The 24 hour arctic sun moved along the horizon and lit the scene bright as day...For all the scraping and whining, the ice glided by beautifully, in a slow motion dance of spring..."

Valerie again: "Verlen and I are setting out to explore the Western hemisphere by solo canoes and we feel as if we are two of the luckiest people alive...I continue to have the most wonderful feelings that I am exactly where I am supposed to be...on the Mackenzie riverbank in time to watch the ice break and move, clearing a channel for us to Cape Horn."

Wikipedia: "The Mackenzie River originates in Great Slave Lake in the Northwest Territories, and flows north to the Arctic Ocean. It is the longest river in Canada (1,080 miles) ..."

Newsletter Editor Dorothy Webster: "The latest news from Valerie and Verlen found them at Fort Good Hope 214 miles from Inuvik, their starting point. 'It was our longest stretch of wilderness paddling', said Val. They were averaging 22 miles per day...they're often paddling until midnight or later."

I have put my Google Earth virtual helicopter in motion and have followed them up the Mackenzie to Fort Good Hope. Though not mentioned in the Newsletter about half way between Inuvik and Good Hope they would have arrived at Tsiigehtchic, a community at the confluence of the Arctic Red River and the Mackenzie. Here the Dempster Highway crosses the Mackenzie (ferry in summer, ice road in winter). The Dempster interconnects the Klondike River with the Arctic Ocean shore at Tukteyaktuk. You might want to look it up.

I am surprised that neither Velen nor Valerie commented on the rapids and Ramparts near Good Hope. The Ramparts are a spectacular-looking limestone gorge maybe 10 miles long upstream from Good Hope. The rapids may have been drowned by the high water they were struggling with. Good Hope was the oldest trading post in the lower Mackenzie valley.

Next: To Norman Wells and beyond.

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